Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: I celebrate all levels of trailers and hopefully this column will satisfactorily give you a baseline of what beta wave I’m operating on, because what better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? Some of the best authors will tell you that writing a short story is a lot harder than writing a long one, that you have to weigh every sentence. What better medium to see how this theory plays itself out beyond that than with movie trailers?


The Mouse That Soared Trailer

What an utter delight.

While I don’t know what the statute of limitations is for having to put on your resume that you were an animator on 1989’s Raisins Sold Out: The California Raisins II or 1988’s Meet the Raisins! or even 1992’s Dance! Workout with Barbie but Kyle Bell ought to be able to stand tall after what I saw in this trailer.

Some of what has made animation a fun genre for me to consume in my formative years is the genuinely fun ways animators bring their work to life. Ren and Stimpy knocked around my funny bone because of its slapstick-y roughhousing, I went to see Spike and Mike’s Classic Festival of Animation year after year because the humor was bold and innovative, and now I embrace the characters in animation that are on the fringes in mainstream bore fests like the penguins in Madagascar because they should be the focus of attention, not the safe lead characters that we get that are voiced by overpriced talent nowadays.

That said, not knowing anything about this movie I like that we are gently eased into what to expect from it. The vintage poster on the back of a wall that shows a mouse with wings, the insides of a vaudeville hall where a little guy is furiously flapping his wings to the sounds of applause, the accepted reality that people would pack a venue just to see this rodent like the WB frog, it all hearkens back to the classic age of cartoons. It kind of makes me wistful thinking about the animated days of yore and the sentiment comes through on the screen.

When we get up close to the titular mouse I was struck by how vibrant the animation looks and feels. It has the sheen of some recent Pixar shorts and I am amazed at how ensconced in this world I become as we flashback to when this runt was a child. Just like trying to explain a joke, telling you the absurd visage of a little, hairless, pink mouse with eyes askew, flies buzzing around his head, with his proud mom holding him in a nest wouldn’t do it justice. It’s just flat out funny.

The scribble font for the interstitials that basically lays out the plot are equally good as it feels in line with the vibe of what we’re seeing. As the mom pitches the mouse out of the nest and we see the chubby mouse fat jiggle as it hurtles towards the earth not knowing a splat is immanently in its future the colors just pop off the screen. The direction is just excellent to communicate the humor of the situation in a way that appeals to the adult in me and would, no doubt, entertain the kids. It’s inspiring to see how 2D can still find ways to beat back the 3D push wih trailers like this.  [Twitch]

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo Trailer

Jeez, man, I would never flippantly use the word “weird” to say something was such but this trailer is begging for people to slap this adjective upon it.

Myself, I really enjoyed the uneasiness this trailer made me feel. Watching it, not knowing where the narrative was or what I should be focused on, there was a sense of heightened relaxation. The trailer forces you just to let it be. Director Jessica Oreck does a bang-up job with saturating the screen with visual delights, skipping over traditional methods of at least hinting at what the movie is about when the trailer begins.

When it does begin it benefits greatly, and it’s such a smart move, to front load the kudos and accolades this movie has received right at the beginning. I don’t usually agree with the hyperbole that’s usually peppered in a trailer that uses pull-quotes but Variety’s Justin Chang gets it right when he says this thing is “quietly spellbinding” because it is. It is pin drop quiet as the festivals this movie has played at are gently revealed against a black backdrop. Cut to a black screen and a voiceover that talks about the lives of insects. We linger for a while on the man talking when he stops. It’s not uncomfortable silence.

Thrust into a world of nighttime, where men walk only with flashlights in what looks like a field and then are treated to images of life in Tokyo as the witching hour wears on. Music that has no discernible artist, or comfortable metronomic beat, plays in the background. Images of beetles walking across soil are focused on, men with lit batons working in the streets of the city are shown, fireworks pop in the sky. That’s when we meet the man in the Ferrari. He says he bought it with the money he made selling insects.

I’m intrigued.

The narrative becomes clearer as the final third of this trailer plays out. The cultural and economic implications of a society that holds dear the idea of insects as embraced icons is perfectly communicated. I find myself wanting to know how this plays out over a feature length time span.

Year Of The Carnivore Trailer

Look, any trailer that makes me say “Huh?” from within by a quote from Gus Van Sant that says “I really liked it” has my vote of confidence.

I really wasn’t sure whether this is a movie that wants to be odd and quirky just to be odd and quirky but there’s enough here that warrants its inclusion this week as I’m turning to you, the esteemed readers, about what to make out of a trailer that has a woman using a vibrator on a bed as two babies kick and coo next to her; it’s supposed to be funny, I guess, but I’m not so sure I feel like laughing. Maybe it’s just me but director/writer Sook-Yin Lee either tried too hard in her film and this is the result or she had the person cobbling together this trailer try too hard to get my attention.

The organ music that starts us off on this awkward adventure is reminiscent of the background tunes used in Napoleon Dynamite. We’re introduced to the woman who will be our protagonist as she busts some old guy trying to steal a steak under his hat. With her in a red poncho, playing the part of Johnny Law, it is certainly enough to make anyone wonder just what in the hell is happening. Never mind that the next scene has her staring at a man masturbating on his patio in rapt attention, pounding down some ramen down her gullet as she takes it all in. I’m confused.

It’s great that things pick up a bit as this strange girl finds a strange boy, the two of them coming together, as a nice pull quote pops up on screen as does some notable film festivals this has played at. I can’t say that this is wholly original but the presentation wavers from being an  interesting story about a girl who simply needs to find her own voice as a woman in order to express her sexuality but I think the message is getting muddled in all the shock value that is embedded every now and then in this trailer. Case in point, the final fifteen seconds of this thing.

With the writhing and the taking off of the shirts, the bras, the simulated pounding of vaj, the tousled hair that I guess is supposed to express some kind of sexual ecstasy, I just found it more annoying than it was a good sales tool to get me excited about a little film that may just have a grand insight into the lengths people will go to find themselves. As it stands, the projectile vomit into the toilet at the end almost kills any interest I have in finding out if this a genuine article or if it’s just a precocious attempt to try and impress a suitor with a little too much energy. [Twitch]

The Human Centipede Trailer

“100% Medically Accurate”

Any trailer that pastes the fact that the movie is 100% medically accurate in a box that is clearly meant to stand out at the end of it honestly raises the bar for films that need a gimmick, an angle. But, goofy as that may be, I found myself just chewing on that line like a cow with its cud. I kept coming back to it when I thought about this trailer and even though it’s a blatant attempt to penetrate that low brow segment of the audience who will latch on to that in honest fascination it works as a marketing device. It lifts itself above the noise of trailers that come and go because this is the real deal of spectacle and showmanship. God love ‘em.

Let’s be honest, director/writer Tom Six has crafted a story that is honestly just bizarre enough that it defies any reasonable attempt to talk about its plot without giggling a little bit. However, the trailer plays it all straight and you can see how the finished product retains that sense of mystery about what it is, what it has to say, and it absolutely has a nefarious vibe. When we meet our two victims in the beginning of this thing, I love that they’re staying in a hotel that is simply called Hotel spelled out in blue neon, you already know they’re victims yet we linger on these dingbats for thirty long seconds. It’s a bold choice to offer no inkling that we’re stepping into a strange world but kudos for not using superlative movie quotes about this movie’s wickedness from those who have already seen it and want to champion it as the next coming. The restraint is admirable.

Even though your B.S. detector is going off wildly in response to these girls leaving their car which seems to only have a flat, wandering aimlessly through a forest instead of the road they were on (!), and ending up on the doorstep of a home that’s answered by a man who looks like Tommy Wiseau’s wizened dad you can’t help but feel (a) they’re as good as dead and (b) let’s see how that happens.

And it’s pretty awesome to see how it all goes down.

Again, I like the restraint shown by the makers of the trailer to just give us an interstitial or two to hit the high notes of the plot but Wiseau Sr., Dieter Laser, does a bang-up job in efficiently explaining how he’s going to create a Siamese triplet, with a visual guide no less so big ups for that, and then how he just flips out on camera. His overacting is taken to new heights and for anyone thinking they would be able to match the intensity of that German I say to you that it is just not possible. As he writhes and pounds and emotes, with a pulsating techo beat in the background just making it almost painful to the ears, the clips of pain and misery I am convinced that this will no doubt be at least a fun examination to see if it can live up to the trailer.

I haven’t had many trailers linger with me this year but this is one of them. Whether or not it’s a great movie is irrelevant as the trailer did what it had to do and that was to evoke a response. You can’t watch this and not have an opinion one way or another.

The Infidel Trailer

Yes, comedy is subjective but this looks like it ought to appeal to a wide spectrum of people looking for something that is equal parts intelligent, farce.

Omid Djalili may not be a name many people recognize but Djalili has one of those faces as a character actor that is almost recognizable although you may not be able to place it. Working with director Josh Appignanesi, Djalili makes something out of what should be a movie about mistaken identity and finding out who you really are. The strength of this trailer, then, is the way it highlights Djalili’s ability to, well, just be funny.

The music that just leads us through this trailer is wonderfully selected, it’s generic but it’s upbeat, as we enter the world of our protagonist who seems to have an issue with life. He’s picked on by kids in his neighborhood, is slapped around by his wife, has at least a little girl who loves him, but accidentally finds out he was adopted.

The physical comedy that is on display here actually works for me. From falling forward and then falling asleep during Muslim prayers was a nice beat, as was the fight he gets in with an adoption agency employee as he wrests paperwork away from a woman confined to a wheelchair. Our Muslim friend, then, finds out he was really born of the Jewish persuasion and it’s about here where I think the trailer really amps up its effectiveness for me as a viewer.

It may not explicitly ask you to think about it, but consider how many comedic films do you know that deal with the issues that Jews and Muslims currently have? Not many, I assure you, but Djalili just shines in this trailer as a guy who acts out all the stereotypes that are associated with the Jewish faith while obviously carrying those of the Muslim faith.

It’s like a modern telling of Tiresias with a funny bone and I like it.

The fact that this is a little incendiary and pushes some issues that are not only topical but relevant appeals to me. This kind of topic is way ripe for a skewering and hopefully it can be as amusing as this trailer.

Note bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

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